Ihumātao protests a long time coming after Government, Auckland Council failed to act - activist

Source: 1News

An activist fighting against a housing development at South Auckland's Ihumātao says the protests and arrests that have made the news this week are a long time coming after years of the Government and Auckland City Council failing to act.  

The sacred piece of Māori land, taken by the Crown in 1865, was eventually sold to Fletcher Building, which wants to develop almost 500 houses on it.

Pania Newton of activist group Save Our Unique Landscape, otherwise known as SOUL, said new protestors continue to step up to protect the site. 

"Overnight, there have been hundreds of kaitiaki (guardians), we would say, arrive to the whenua to stand in solidarity with our whānau and our marae, to protect our wāhi tapu and this rare cultural heritage landscape," she told TVNZ1's Breakfast.

Buses full of protestors from Hokianga and Taranaki are expected to arrive on the land, near Auckland Airport, this morning, she said.

The protests have begun to spread throughout the nation, with demonstrators yestersay blocking off a busy intersection as they marched to Parliament. An additional rally is expected to take place in Christchurch today.

Ms Newton said the police presence at the Auckland site was of "major concern" due to the possibility of further arrests, after several people were arrested in recent days .

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Human rights observers from Amnesty International are monitoring the protest - the first time they have been sent in a number of years.

"We've seen over the last couple of days, those [arrests] are likely to happen during dusk and dawn, which takes my mind back to the Dawn Raids, and I think of our Pasifika whānau and Māori who lived through that," Ms Newton said.

"My concern with the family is that the tamariki, and our own whānau and our marae and the legacy that might be left for our papa kāinga (original home).

"This is my tūrangawaewae (standing), and in Pākehā terms, you would describe that as the place where you feel your greatest sense of belonging and place.

"This is where I've grown up. This is where I envision my mokopuna, my children's placenta, their whenua will go if I have children in the future."

Ms Newton responded to criticism from local iwi Te Kawerau ā Maki, which attempted to discredit her by claiming she "isn't mana whenua" and does not represent the people of the land.

"It's really sad that you would see these elders, or kaumātua, abusing their privilege," she said.

"My aroha goes to them, but my kaumātua and our kuia, from our papa kāinga and our marae – they are supporting us and they've guided us through this over the past four-and-a-half years," she said. "They haven't been aiding and abetting Fletchers as other iwi may have been, but my guidance comes from my kaumātua and my kuia who are standing on the frontlines with us to defend our taonga and our wāhi tapu."

Ms Newton said there are multiple iwi who are claiming a stake in the land – not all of whom have been involved in the consultation process.

"There are many hapū affiliated to our marae, and none of them have been consulted about whether or not this development should go ahead."

She added that while Fletcher Building believes they have followed the law, "we know, and history tells us, that the law is against us".

"We look at the Heritage Places Act and it's discriminatory towards Māori-built heritage and Māori sites of significance, you know, wāhi tapu.

"It's almost like, in the back of our minds, we've known that we would inevitably come to something like this, even though we've worked really hard over the past five years to call on the Government and Auckland Council to intervene and prevent a confrontation so that we don’t repeat the mistakes of the past."

Ms Newton said she wants the Government to "turn their heads and their hearts to our marae, the hub to our papa kāinga and our community, and they have strongly opposed, over all these years against this development".

"They need to listen to our marae, who represents the many other hapū who are affiliated to this whenua. They are asking the Government to intervene, prevent the confrontation, and return the whenua back to mana whenua whom the land was stolen from."

Later on Breakfast, Regional Economic Development Minister Shane Jones said, when asked about the Ihumātao protests, that compromise is an important part of Māori history.

"Well, this is a sad issue because that land has a sad history," he said. "The reality is that compromise is a part of Māori history as much as protest.

"[Ms Newton] has got every right to protest, but at the end of the day, compromise has defined Māori existence as much as protest."

Mr Jones also said the police have done well to defuse tensions.

National's Paula Bennett said Māori land had been put aside and made into a reserve, adding that there had been differences of opinion between Māori at protests.

"From what I can see, and the bit that I know, I think that it has been fairly dealt with and that they have got land there that has been put aside and for the right reasons."